Inhumane cost of labourThe violation of the free-visa, free-ticket policy for Nepali workers is one reason for their suffering.
Nepal has consistently failed to protect its migrant workers. A recent report Chunautiko Chapeta by Equidem Research Nepal (a migrant rights and human rights research organisation) made alarming revelations on how Nepali migrant workers are subjected to widespread exploitation, unfair recruitment practices, labour rights violations and inadequate support systems in the Gulf countries and Malaysia. The most pressing and recurring issue is that they continue to pay exorbitant recruitment fees.
The violation of the free-visa, free-ticket policy for Nepali workers is one reason for their suffering. The policy was implemented in 2015 and required employers from labour-receiving countries to bear the cost of visa processing and air tickets to hire Nepali workers, as Nepalis had to otherwise take out large loans to work abroad. The general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment by the International Labour Organisation clearly states, “No recruitment fees or related costs should be charged to, or otherwise borne by, workers or jobseekers.” However, in the eighth year of the free visa-and-ticket policy and despite the international guidelines, Nepali manpower companies are still reportedly exploiting workers by charging them exorbitant fees.
The experience of Nepali migrant workers being illegally charged is not an isolated case. Last year, a news article in The Guardian revealed a similar issue with Bangladesh. As per the report, migrants from Bangladesh and Nepal paid fees of $3,000-$4,000 and $1,000-$1,500, respectively, to get to Qatar. Nepalis in Saudi Arabia earn only around Rs35,000, and Bangladeshi in Qatar make around Tk30,000 per month and yet have to pay such exorbitant costs just to get the job, leaving them in heavy debt. While private recruitment agencies want permission to charge recruitment fees equivalent to one month’s salary, experts say such illegal and exorbitant recruitment charges mark the start of the migrant workers’ exploitation.
Their struggles aren’t confined to the duplicity of the manpower companies. Upon reaching their intended destination, they often find themselves deceived, as they are received by representatives of companies that are different to the ones mentioned in the contract. There is thus a troubling mismatch between the promised job and the one they are forced to do. What’s more, they are trapped in a vicious cycle of temporary jobs at meagre wages—and they don’t get to return home. This contributes to long-term anxiety and mental disturbance, sometimes leading to even suicides.
The failure of both Nepal and labour-receiving countries to ensure the rights of migrant workers has resulted in a distressing situation, leaving such workers vulnerable and without adequate protection. There is thus a need for a comprehensive solution, which includes holding dialogue with the labour-recruiting countries to effectively implement worker-friendly policies, robustly monitoring private recruitment agencies, and formulating policies to rescue stranded workers abroad. It all starts with strict implementation of the free-visa free-ticket regime. The country cannot allow some of its most vulnerable citizens, who, ironically, are also its lifeblood, to continue to be so openly exploited.